Living Generously

Stewardship, money, giving, 2 Corinthians, Generosity

I remember talking to a Pastor once who said, “I figured that I was going to have to raise money the rest of my life, so I might as well get good at it.” This particular Pastor is very good at raising money. However, it is something that has always made me uncomfortable.

My discomfort comes from several things. First, too many people measure others by their income level. Some even measure you spiritually by how much you have. Those who have more must be more “blessed by God”, they think. (Even though Jesus says riches is one of the greatest barriers to faith). Second, we all have the feeling that everyone is trying to take what we have. The government takes a big chunk in various taxes. Solicitors relentlessly try to get us to support their causes with our hard-earned cash. It is easy to feel that people care about us only in terms of what they can get from us. Third, we have all read stories of financial mismanagement or abuse in the church and religious organizations. I never want to look like those people.

This being said we must talk about living generously. First, we should talk about it because Paul talks about it. We are seeking Biblical principles for life . . . we are not talking about this because we are trying to manipulate you to support some project. Second, we need to talk about this because if we do not submit our finances to the Lord then a huge chunk of our lives is excluded from His Lordship.

In 2 Corinthians 8:1-13 Paul gives us an illustration of generosity and then some principles for how to live generously or on how to honor God with what we have.

Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.

For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.

An Illustration of Generosity

People say a picture is worth a thousand words. We know that is true. If you can illustrate something either with a picture or with a word picture you will help people to understand on a much deeper level.  So, this is what Paul does. He gives us an illustration of generosity.

He says first that the believers in Macedonia were tested by many troubles. This phrase indicates these people were being crushed by the circumstances of life. They were undergoing some kind of extreme affliction. It is likely they were being persecuted and ridiculed because of their trust in Christ. Times were tough.

Second, we are told that they were very poor. This was extreme poverty. They had little. It is likely that this too was the result of their faith in Christ. Because of their trust in Christ they were excluded from some of the assistance that would normally be given to people.

Third, they were characterized by abundant joy. Stop and hear this! They were dirt poor, they were under extreme hardship, and distress YET . . . they were characterized by abundant (not just a hint) of joy. These people had such a solid faith in Christ that they lived joyfully in spite of their circumstances. They were generous in spite of their poverty. They focused on the grace they had received rather than the trials they had been called to endure.

These people heard that the church in Jerusalem was suffering. It is likely those in Jerusalem had endured a famine and Christians were excluded from any aid. The Macedonians heard this and they wanted to help. Paul says they gave not what they could spare, but well beyond what they could spare. The text seems to indicate that these people were so poor that Paul had no intention of asking them to help. The people pleaded with him to let them help their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.

Paul says the reason they were so generous was that they had “given themselves first to the Lord and then they gave themselves to others”. It doesn’t do any good to give all we have to God unless we first give ourselves. Frankly some people give as their way of not having to give themselves to the Lord. It is easier to write a check than it is to truly serve the Lord. These people put their whole trust in the Lord Jesus and as a result they considered everything that they had to be at His disposal.

The church in Macedonia is not only inspiring, I also find them convicting. I think I spend more time whining about what I don’t have than giving what I have to give. I spend more time focusing on the trials of life than I do living in the joyful privilege that is part of being a child of God. The Christians from Macedonia not only inspired the Corinthian Church, they should also inspire us.

So we have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place, to return to you and encourage you to finish this ministry of giving. Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us– want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.

I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.

The Challenge (6-9)

Apparently, the Corinthians had made some promises or faith commitments to help support the church in Jerusalem but when the problems developed and the attacks or charges came against Paul they stopped or withdrew their support.  Now that the hostilities had ceased, he encouraged the church to follow through on their commitment.

It is common for people in the Christian community to pledge support that is not carried through. Lots of ministries get pledges of support from people who never follow through on those pledges. Not all of those people are being deceptive. I remember as a young man being challenged to make a pledge to my church. I always had big desires to give but sometimes pledged more than I could actually give. Paul’s point is that it is not what you promise that matters . . . it is what you actually deliver.

Paul affirmed that the church had many gifted people in the church and wanted them to be characterized by generosity and compassion. This is a true test of love: to be willing to be inconvenienced for someone else. When we are willing to let go of some of our treasure; when we are led to deny ourselves so we can help someone else; we reveal that we have a true heart of love.

Paul gave them (and us) a powerful motivation to give: the example of our Lord Jesus. In Philippians 2 we are told,

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,

he did not think of equality with God

as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

he took the humble position of a slave

and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

he humbled himself in obedience to God

and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  (Philippians 2:3-8)

In essence Paul is saying, No matter how generous you choose to be you still have not come close to being as generous as Christ has been to you. Jesus gave up the privilege of His position in Heaven to become a created Being. Not only that, He subjected Himself to abuse, rejection, and death. He did this all willingly so He could exchange His righteous (or perfect) life for our sinful lives.

Think about it, isn’t our biggest obstacle to giving often the idea that we shouldn’t have to give what we have worked hard for to help someone else . . . they should work harder themselves. Whenever we feel that we are being cheated we need to remember that we have received from Christ far more than we could ever give to anyone else.

Principles for Generous Living

10 Here is my advice: It would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. 11 Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. 12 Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. 13 Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. 14 Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. 15 As the Scriptures say,

“Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over,

and those who gathered only a little had enough.” (2 Cor. 8:10-15)

Paul gives some guidelines for how to live generously. In fact, he will give some of these same guidelines again in chapter 9. The principles are simple but important.

Give Eagerly Out of Love Rather Than Out of Guilt or Compulsion. This is an important principle. Paul emphasizes the importance of the heart in giving.

Let’s be honest, sometimes we give because we think doing so will make us better Christians. In other words we are giving in order to “earn” our salvation. That is not only foolish (there is not enough money in the world to enable us to buy our way into Heaven) it is also offensive to the grace of God. Giving should be an expression of gratitude toward God. It should also be a joyful sharing in the Kingdom He is building.

Think of it like the difference between buying a gift because you feel you “have to” and buying a gift out of love. One fulfills an obligation and you may feel a bit of resentment and even bitterness about “having to” buy something. (Kind of like the way we resent paying taxes). It is different when you buy a gift out of love. You probably spend more money, but you do so joyfully. It is a delight to give expression to your love. You eagerly await the opening of the gift. That’s the way we should be: joyfully generous because in giving we show honor and gratitude to the Lord.

Give Proportionately. Paul is not challenging the people to give any certain amount. He asks them to give proportionately. In truth, this is what the Bible has always taught. The tithe was generally considered to be 10%.

However Jesus and Paul actually replaced the idea of the tithe. The tithe put its focus on how much you were required to give and gave no thought to how much was kept for ourselves. In other words, we feel quite satisfied and spiritual if we give 10% even though God may have given us the opportunity and resources to give much more than this.

For many and probably most of us, giving 10% of our income (after the government takes its huge percentage) is a huge commitment. However, that is not the case for everyone. Paul is encouraging us not to focus so much on percentages (the earning my blessing approach) but to focus on what God has enabled us to do.

Give With An Awareness of the Principle of Reciprocity. Paul understood the feeling we sometimes have: We are continually asked to give to people who seem to spend their life taking. We have become cynical. We see people who “work the system” and seem to live way better than we are able to live even though we are working hard. It doesn’t seem fair.

Paul reminds us that as a body of Christ we will all need each other at some time or another. For example, we may give generously to some community that has had a disaster knowing someday we might need that same kind of help from others. We give to help people who are hurting because we know someday we will hurt.  The person to whom we give may not be able to give to us in like manner but they can give in other ways.

I have discovered this principle in my own life. You may receive many gifts from others

  • An encouraging word
  • An act of kindness
  • A needed hug
  • A strengthening prayer
  • A timely word from Scripture
  • Wise counsel
  • Silent compassion
  • A shared tear

These are all precious gifts that you cannot put a price tag on. Jesus said

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back. (Luke 6:38)

Some people have viewed this verse as a formula to financial success . . .in other words, when you give money to God He will multiply that and give you more money in return. However, in this case the motivation for giving is no longer love, it is selfishness and greed!

The principle Paul is giving is this: as we open our hearts and release our grip on the things of this world that we cherish so fervently (our money and stuff), we open ourselves to a greater experience of the love and generosity of God. There is a joy in giving that comes as a result of the smile of God on our life. The more we open up, the more we trust, the more we share, the more room God has to fill us with His love and grace. That love and grace often comes from other people.

Conclusions

Much of the mail I receive every day never gets opened . . .it goes right into the garbage can. That is because most of what I receive is either an appeal for money or catalogs giving me the opportunity to find that thing “I have needed all my life” and never knew it. To resist temptation I don’t even open that stuff.

Talk of increased taxes, higher costs of living, and an endless stream of people trying to make us feel guilty for not giving to their cause, makes it understandable that we have become quite cynical and uncomfortable about any talk about money.

However, the reality is that Biblical stewardship is a big part of our lives. Money can easily become our god. It is an idol quite acceptable in our day. We trust our investments for retirement, we trust our incomes to pay for purchases we purchase by installments, we anchor our happiness to “making just a little more money”.  We even dream of how wonderful things would be if we would only win the lottery.

If we do not submit this area of our lives to the Lordship of Christ we can easily drift spiritually until we no longer have a relationship with the Father. How we relate to our money is important. The Bible tells us that the best way to release the grip of money on our lives is to use it as a tool to advance God’s Kingdom. He encourages us to use our money to help others physically, socially, and spiritually.

The promise before us is powerful: if we will honor God with what He has given us, we will discover a new depth and joy in our relationship with Him. In my book . . . that’s the best investment anyone can make.

Scripture:

2 Corinthians 8:1-13